(Editor's note - AIM last week released the Blueprint for the Next Century, a long-term plan for economic growth and prosperity in Massachusetts. The AIM blog will this week publish one summary each day of the four recommendations contained in the Blueprint. We invite your responses in the Comments section.)
Government and business must develop the best system in the world for educating and training workers with the skills needed to allow Massachusetts companies to succeed in a rapidly changing global economy.
Where We Stand
What if you created an economy and no one came? Massachusetts employers almost unanimously name the shortage of qualified workers as the central impediment to the future of the economy. The worker shortage crosses almost every industry, from manufacturers in the Pioneer Valley to software companies in Boston’s Innovation District to research and engineering firms on the North Shore.
Where We Can Improve
- Take advantage of the opportunity provided by the Work Force Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 to align the commonwealth’s work-force training programs with the needs of employers and job seekers. The act requires Massachusetts to develop a four-year strategy – in the form of a single, unified strategic plan for core programs—for preparing an educated and skilled work force and meeting the hiring needs of employers. Massachusetts policymakers should rationalize the distribution and control of federal work-force training money to maximize results.
Develop as part of the review a strategy to consolidate educational and work-force development systems that remain Balkanized in Massachusetts and widely inconsistent in terms of outcomes.
- The governor should convene the Massachusetts High Demand Career Initiative, a broad consultation among business, education, government, labor and the general public to address the range of long-term issues embedded in the skilled-worker shortage. The initiative would send an unmistakable signal about the commonwealth’s determination to be the global leader in work-force skills.
- Employers, government and citizens must together elevate the role of vocational education and its potential to provide people the skills they need to realize their economic dreams.
The commonwealth should work with private employers, led by AIM, to initiate a multi-year marketing and communications initiative to promote the value offered by vocational education and skills training. The initiative must address the ingrained cultural bias among parents and the general public that vocational education is for students who cannot succeed in college-preparatory high schools. The message should be that college is not the only pathway to success.
Conduct a detailed inventory of the work-force needs and compensation opportunities in each region of the commonwealth; compare the findings to the programs offered at the state’s 15 community colleges, 39 vocational high schools and traditional high schools that offer vocational programs.
Develop a strategy to ensure consistent excellence among vocational schools. Some of these schools are among the best in the country, but municipal officials say others are dumping grounds for school systems seeking to boost the MCAS scores of their traditional high schools.
Distribute educational aid in a manner than eliminates the waiting lists that exist at half of the commonwealth’s vocational high schools.
Encourage acceptance of the Manufacturing Assistance Center Workforce Innovation Collaborative curriculum by vocational schools and community colleges around the state.
Encourage more industry-driven, demand-based training partnerships in developing fields, such as the aviation technology programs currently being developed on Cape Cod and in the City of Westfield.
Allow vocational schools to work with community colleges to grant associates degrees.
- In skill areas not currently served by vocational education, employers, government and educators should create a system in which public schools provide students with strong, fundamental math, science and communication skills while businesses develop programs to teach specific job skills.
Evaluate high schools based not only on the number of graduating students who attend college, but on the number who graduate and obtain gainful employment.
Establish a statewide recognition program to honor schools with the best record of graduating skilled workers.
Replicate the example of Tech Foundry in Springfield, which provides information technology training to students in Springfield after school, on week-ends and during school vacations. Students work with business mentors to determine the IT skills that employers need and then earn skill badges and later intern with employers. The initiative is funded by foundations and the private sector.
Replicate the similarly successful model of organizations such as Girls Who Code, which work to inspire, educate and equip girls in a manner that will create gender parity in the computing field.
Implement the recommendations of the Massachusetts Computer Action Network to integrate curriculum in the public schools that will prepare students for careers in computer science and other technical fields.
- Expand performance-based funding for Massachusetts community college and public four-year institutions.
Support the recent recommendations of the Massachusetts Higher Education Commission establishing five-year performance benchmarks on work-force development and civic learning for the entire system.
- Global companies with a significant presence in Massachusetts should establish partnerships that harness the intellectual capital of the region’s colleges and universities. State government should consider modest financial incentives to encourage such partnerships.
One such model is the new joint research facility established by Raytheon Company with the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. The project is focused on the advancement of innovative technologies in a collaborative, state-of-the-art institute. Raytheon is committing between $3 million and $5 million over the next 10 years.
The State of New York provides financial incentives to companies that establish or training partnerships with public or private colleges and universities. Such incentives are notable in that they are not geared to one-time efforts to attract a single employer, but rather to sustained efforts that build a cooperative infrastructure between employers and higher education.
- Employers must establish a consistent level of engagement with educational institutions and training providers to ensure a pool of skilled potential employees.
More employers must create internship programs and Massachusetts must encourage such programs. The companies that are most successful in attracting talent are almost always those that have invested in creating on-the-job educational opportunities for students in the workplace.
Replicate partnerships such as the manufacturing skills training program developed in Springfield by Springfield Technical Community College, Holyoke Community College and the University of Massachusetts with private support from companies such as Smith & Wesson, MassMutual and Suffolk Construction.
Employers in the information technology field must engage with public and private four-year colleges to ensure that these institutions are teaching up-to-date skills. Many employers complain that while community colleges turn out graduates with appropriate skills, a significant number of graduates of four-year colleges come to the workplace with outdated skills.
- Massachusetts should conduct a comprehensive best-practices audit to determine the best approaches to work-force training being used on in other states and countries. South Carolina, for example, has developed a successful manufacturing apprenticeship program in which promising young people are paid both for working and for their classroom studies. The program is based on those prevalent in Germany and is being driven by German companies such as BMW, which operate plants in South Carolina.
- Emphasize the role that returning veterans can play in filling needs for employees. Hiding in plain sight here in Massachusetts and throughout the country are millions of men and women who have technical skills forged in an arena where split-second decisions mean the difference between life and death. Post 9-11 era military veterans represent a massive untapped source of talented people who already know the value of showing up for work on time, teamwork and accomplishing a mission.
Encourage employer support for hiring programs such as New England Tech Vets (www.newenglandtechvets.org) or Helmets to Hardhats (www.helmetstohardhats.org), a union initiative to connect veterans with building and construction careers.
“My job is to prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created using technology that has not yet been invented.”